A comprehensive guide to driving in the Hawkeye State
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Although Iowa requires liability insurance for all of its drivers, the state has some of the cheapest rates in the U.S., at 32 percent less than the national average in 2020. That puts it among the top three cheapest states for auto insurance. Unlike states such as California, however, Iowa’s 2.2 million drivers are subject to discrimination based on their age, sex, and credit score. Here’s everything you need to know about driving and car insurance in Iowa.
|Bodily injury coverage per person||Bodily injury coverage per accident||Property damage coverage per accident|
|Minimum limit in Iowa||$20,000||$40,000||$15,000|
|Difference from national average||-25%||-20%||-16%|
While these rates are among the lowest in the nation, you might want to take on additional coverage, like comprehensive or collision coverage. We’ll break down those numbers below.
|Type of coverage||Recommended minimum limit in Iowa|
|Personal injury protection||Equal to bodily injury|
|Uninsured motorist||Equal to bodily injury|
|Comprehensive||Actual market value of car|
|Collision||Actual market value of car|
Since Iowa is an at-fault state, which means you might have to pay some percentage of the damages or bodily injuries even if you were only partially at fault for the accident, it’s important to get as much coverage as you can afford.
According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Iowa’s average annual auto insurance premium is $708, which is 32 percent less than the national average.1
Rates depend on your age, credit score, insurance history, and type of coverage. You can expect to pay around $150 per month for the cheapest minimum coverage, $1,200 for full coverage, and up to $4,000 for teen drivers.
Factors like how many DUIs or at-fault crashes you’ve had will also affect your insurance rates. Compare rates between local insurance providers and stay up to date on factors that can affect your insurance costs.
Get car insurance quotes from multiple car insurance companies to find the lowest rate.
While you don’t need proof of insurance in order to register your vehicle in Iowa, you need to be insured before taking it to the road. If you’re pulled over and can’t provide proof of liability insurance, you may face the following penalties for the first offense:
You can show proof of liability coverage either through a standard paper insurance card or an electronic copy of your insurance card.
Iowa is an at-fault state, which means that parties who are at fault in an accident pay for both property damage and bodily injury. Here are some important things to note about the at-fault policy in Iowa:
While insurers are required to offer you a minimum amount of $20,000 uninsured motorist coverage, you can reject the coverage in writing. A little over 11 percent of drivers (257,011 drivers) in Iowa drive without insurance. While this isn’t necessarily a high number, as Iowa is ranked 28th in the country for the number of uninsured drivers, many drivers opt to take on uninsured motorist coverage in case they get into an accident with an uninsured/underinsured driver.3
Iowa is not a stacked state, which means that if you have coverage for more than one vehicle, your limits do not increase based on the number of cars you have covered.
DUIs in Iowa stay on your record for 12 years, and you face a 180-day license suspension for the first offense. The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit in Iowa is 0.15 percent. Additional penalties, especially if you’re under the age of 18, may include a $2,000 fine, nine months of jail time, and a six-month minimum interlock ignition requirement.
Iowa is one of 35 states that enforces primary seat belt laws, which means that police officers can issue tickets for not wearing seat belts alone, in the absence of any other crime or offense.
Iowa’s seat belt laws also specify that all front-seat occupants and all backseat occupants under the age of 18 must wear seat belts when the car is in motion.
If you’re over the age of 18, you may use your phone while driving in Iowa either to talk while driving or to navigate your GPS system; however, texting while driving is banned for all ages and is enforced as a primary law. You can face a $45 fine and two points on your driving record per violation for texting while driving.4
If you’re a teen driver in Iowa, you’re in luck, because Iowa has some of the most lenient restrictions for teenage drivers in the country.
The minimum age to obtain a learner’s permit in Iowa is 14, and learner’s permit fees are only $6. There are no curfew restrictions for teen drivers. As long as you have an appropriate supervisor in the vehicle (a parent, guardian, or immediate family member over the age of 21), you can have as many passengers in the vehicle as there are seat belts. You might also be glad to know that there are no school requirements in order for you to receive your learner’s permit.
When you turn 16, you can apply for an intermediate license, which allows you to drive between the hours of 5 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. without adult supervision. You can upgrade from an intermediate license to a full license when you turn 17, or you can wait until you are 18 if you want to forgo the learner’s permit and intermediate license requirements.
If you are involved in a violation or crash, you may face the following penalties.
If you are found guilty of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, which is defined as having a BAC of more than 0.2 percent, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or having any amount of a controlled substance in your blood or urine, you may face the following penalties:
In Iowa, you have five years from the date of an accident to file a claim for property damage, and two years to file a personal injury claim. If you don’t file a claim for damages or injuries within this time frame, you won’t get coverage.
Cancellation is when your insurance company cancels your insurance policy during its term. Non-renewal is when your insurance provider refuses to renew your coverage at the end of its coverage period.
If your insurance provider decides to cancel your policy or opt out of renewing your policy, it must let you know within the allotted period prior to your policy’s expiration date.
|Cancellation vs. non renewal notification law in Iowa||Cancellations due to fraud, misrepresentation, or driver’s license suspension or revocation||Cancellations due to nonpayment||Non-renewals|
|How long your insurer must notify you before your policy expires||20 days||10 days||20 days|
Self-insurance is an option in Iowa for drivers who own more than 25 vehicles. The minimum required collateral to be self-insured in Iowa is, however, at the discretion of the Iowa Insurance Division. This means that the Iowa Insurance Division will determine if you’re financially able to be self-insured on a case-by-case basis.
Unless your vehicle is registered out of state, you are not required to pass any DMV inspections in Iowa. Because all metropolitan cities in Iowa are in compliance with the U.S. Clean Air Act, you are also not required to pass any emission tests.6
There are no SR-22 requirements in Iowa. Some states require drivers with criminal backgrounds or histories of serious traffic violations to carry SR-22 certificates while driving. An SR-22 is an add-on to your existing insurance policy, and in states with SR-22 regulations, it is required for those who have high-risk insurance policies.
Defensive driving courses can be a good way to get discounts on your car insurance rates. These courses teach safe driving strategies that help you avoid hazards and become aware of common dangers you might encounter on the road.
You might be required to take a defensive driving course if you have three countable moving violations within a year, one speeding violation of driving 25 to 29 mph over the limit, or a ticket for passing a school bus unlawfully. Find a state-approved defensive driving course here: https://iowadot.gov/mvd/driverseducation/Iowa-driver-improvement-program.
In Iowa, you have the right to file a civil lawsuit following a lawsuit for any amount up to $1 million. Because Iowa is an at-fault state, each party pays damages or injuries equivalent to their degree of fault.
If you don’t agree with the payout, you can file a suit and seek uncompensated economic damages including medical expenses, lost wages, and noneconomic damages (e.g., pain, suffering, and anxiety). You can file a suit regardless of the monetary value of your losses or the severity of your injuries, as no monetary thresholds exist in Iowa.
Unless the police have already investigated an accident involving a death, injury, or damage of $1,500 or more, you have to file a report within three days or face a license suspension. Learn more about how a license suspension affects car insurance.
With the exception of Massachusetts, Hawaii, Michigan, and California, most states in the U.S., including Iowa, look at your credit score and gender to determine your insurance rates. Believe it or not, women pay slightly less on average for car insurance than their male counterparts, and individuals with low credit scores may have to pay nearly double the rate of individuals with exceptional credit scores.
Your vehicle is considered a total loss when the cost of repairs exceeds its actual market value (AMV). While some states require the cost of repairs to be equal to or greater than the AMV, your damages only need to equal 70 percent of the AMV for it to be considered a total loss.
Since the total loss threshold is significantly lower than the AMV in Iowa, this should provide good news to anyone in a total loss incident. For example, if your car costs $10,000, you only need to incur $7,000 in damages to receive the maximum total loss coverage as stated in your insurance plan.
You can reach most state departments online, by mail, in person at an office, or by phone.
Insurance is required in order to register your vehicle in Iowa, and you need to do so 30 days from the date that you establish residency. Follow these steps to register your vehicle:
Find more information on how to register your vehicle in Iowa at https://iowadot.gov/mvd/vehicleregistration/registering-a-vehicle.
Iowa is one of the cheapest states in the U.S. to repair your car in. Averaging just over $350, the cost of car repairs in Iowa is 8 percent less than the national average. That’s broken down between the average cost of labor ($150.18) and the average cost of parts ($206.39).
Iowa has some of the lowest vehicle theft rates in the country. At 25 percent lower than the national average, Iowa has 197 instances of vehicle theft per 100,000 inhabitants.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of the cities with the highest rates of crime in Iowa are also among the highest in population.
|Metropolitan statistical area||Rate of motor vehicle theft per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020|
|Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA||397|
|Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL||329|
|Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA||263|
|Cedar Rapids, IA||254|
|Sioux City, IA-NE-SD||232|
Traffic fatality rates in Iowa are also significantly lower than the national average. For every 100 million vehicles driven in Iowa, there are 336 fatalities, which is 111 percent lower than the national average.
Want more information on Iowa? Check out our auto insurance FAQs to find out more about driving in the birthplace of sliced bread.
For minimum coverage, 20-year-old drivers in Iowa can expect to pay $300 to $500 per month. Those rates jump up to $1,500 to $1,800 for full coverage.
You do not need to show proof of insurance when transferring a title and tag in Iowa. Rather, you’ll only need your current title and a completed application for an Iowa title certificate. Learn more from the Iowa Department of Transportation’s website: https://iowadot.gov/mvd/vehicleregistration/registering-a-vehicle.
Iowa has a grace period of two to 30 days for you to add your car to your existing insurance plan. After that grace period is over, you will need to obtain minimum coverage to meet the state’s financial responsibility laws, as Iowa law requires liability coverage.
While rates for young drivers can reach up to $2,000 for minimum liability and nearly $6,000 for full coverage in Iowa, IMT and State Farm offer the lowest rates for new drivers. IMT’s rates are as low as $550 for minimum liability and $2,000 for full coverage, and State Farm’s rates are $680 for minimum liability and $2,100 for full coverage. The average rate will be cheaper for a young driver with a clean driving record.
2019/2020 Auto Insurance Database Report. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. (2023, Jan).
CHAPTER 668: LIABILITY IN TORT — COMPARATIVE FAULT. Iowa Code 2022, Chapter 668. (2021, Dec 3).
One in Eight Drivers Uninsured. Insurance Research Council. (2021, Mar 22).
DISTRACTED DRIVING. Iowa Department of Public Safety. (2022).
DRIVER’S LICENSE/ID – UNDER AGE 18. Iowa Dot. (2022).
DMV & EMISSIONS TESTING LOCATIONS IN IOWA. Emissions.org. (2022).